For Thanksgiving week we took a road trip to LA. I was excited to reconnect with old friends who I so value. I was also excited to reconnect with some subjects from a story that impacted me greatly... exactly 20 years ago.
In 1995 I worked on a story for the NY Times with the wonderful writer Seth Mydans. I was given great access to local gang members from the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. Gangs in LA were in the most active period in history.
I met, and photographed many of the gang members and kids who were attempting to get out of gangs.
Two boys I spent the most time with were a 15 year-old baby faced Echo Park newbie who called himself Dreamer. His girlfriend, 17, was pregnant and I followed them for a couple months as they delivered a beautiful baby girl.
I also photographed a sweet 17 year-old boy named Alex, AKA Lil' Wicked. He had a two year old son with the same stunning blue-green eyes.
Photographing on black and white film, I followed these kids for several months but then as life moved on I never did more with the story.
Last week I had the pleasure of hanging with and catching up with Alex. (Dreamer declined to meet with me) Sitting in the same alley where he lived back then and where I photographed him holding hands with his toddler, Alex caught me up on the past 20 years. Stories of violence, prison, substance abuse were extreme. He was put in prison about a year after I met him for the first time in 1995 and spent much of the time until 2009 in and out of prison. He had not seen his son since the boy was 6.
After his last stay in prison in 2009, the man formally known as Wicked, decided to get his life together. He got sober, got a job and when he felt he had finally grown up enough to be a role model to his son... he knocked on the door.
It was a great time hearing all of his stories and I plan on keeping in touch with him for more of this project with him and others that were in the gangs at the time. The importance as a journalist of respecting your subject and building strong relationships based on mutual respect no matter what you think of their lot in life cannot be stressed enough.
Alex and Alex junior 1995